Four years after that first trip to Sedona, I found myself buried under the stuff of my life: overscheduled, overworked, overvolunteered. I was about to turn fifty and my husband asked if I’d like a birthday party.
“No, thanks. But I would like to take a trip. By myself.”
I was remembering the freedom of Sedona and how renewed I felt when I returned home.
There was this longing to go away, by myself, but I didn’t have any idea how to start. Where should I go? What would be safe for me—a woman traveling alone? My trip would be in summer—when I had a two- month break from my job as a school nurse. We had two sons in college so it had to be economical.
I felt the pull to go to water. Living in central North Carolina, there were lots of beaches in quick driving distance. But the ones I knew were too familiar; it needed to be more of an adventure to the unknown. Considering places in a reasonable driving distance, I chose Jekyll Island, Georgia.
I’d only been there once, on a family trip. The island was considered a state park and required going through an entrance gate, which should add to its safety. It would be like a new place since I could do the things I wanted instead of being focused on activities for children. Jekyll was about a six- hour drive from home—close enough that if I was uncomfortable by myself, I could turn around. I wondered if it was selfish to leave my mother, who was needing more assistance due to dementia. My two sisters would be there to help. We had to take care of ourselves, too.
Setting out on my journey, I prayed that God would bless me and ‘the people in my path.’ I felt that starting my trip with that prayer, opened my eyes to what might appear below the surface. Going on a pilgrimage is about having your eyes and heart open.
I scheduled three days there—brief like my time in Sedona, where I’d seen that length of stay doesn’t always predict the impact of the journey. I checked into the motel that met my three requirements: safe, clean, affordable.
The next morning, before I set out on my bike to explore the island, I took a moment to ground myself, reading from the Psalms. Feeling the cumulative tiredness from a hectic school year and my family and community responsibilities, the Psalm seemed to be spot on:
“He satisfies my desires with good things
So that my youth is renewed like the Eagle’s.”
Psalm 103:5 NIV
Boy, I need my youth renewed, I thought.
That day, I felt like a girl again, riding my bicycle on the path that circled the island. Later, I found shelter from a thunderstorm on the porch of the Vanderbilt cottage where I read my delicious new paperback– a perfect companion. That night, I was refreshed by a swim in the huge hotel pool.
After three days, I felt like I had traveled back to my childhood and had been reminded how to play.
That must be why I felt pulled to this place, I thought.
When I left the island, I vowed to play more often. Not be buried again by the responsibilities of being an adult. That was the gift I would carry home.
Now, when I look back at that first intentional pilgrimage, I see that it showed me how to look inside myself for my destination—to follow where my energy led. It was okay to leave my family, even my mother, and trust that others would provide care for her while I cared for myself. And it was helpful each morning, to ground myself in my desire for that day—my intention for the journey.
What about you?
–Have you felt the pull to take a journey by yourself and wondered if you were being selfish?
–Could you go away to care for yourself and let others care for those you leave behind? Could you do this for a short time to a place that is close by?